By Carol Tannenhauser
“Buy land. They ain’t making any more of the stuff.” – Will Rogers
Sometime after Labor Day, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission will decide the fate of the 133-year-old West-Park Presbyterian Church, on the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and West 86th Street.
The church was given landmark status 12 years ago, against the wishes of its congregation, who knew the designation would make it harder to sell. Even then, the church was in bad condition. Now, the congregation has found a buyer — who wants the land beneath it, but not the church itself — and they are asking the commission to remove the building’s landmark status, on the grounds that it is beyond repair and has ruined them financially. If the church’s petition — called a “hardship application” — is approved, the building can be demolished and sold to developer Alchemy Properties, which is planning to replace it with a 19-story, luxury, market-rate condominium building.
The question before the commission and the community is, does this church have such historic or architectural value that it needs to be preserved, despite the considerable financial obstacles to preservation?
In the world of historic preservation, it’s a perennial question — one that “could have been asked 200 years ago,” said Whitney Martinko, a history professor at Villanova University and author of Historic Real Estate: Market Morality and the Politics of Preservation in the Early United States, in a recent telephone interview.
In fact, that question was asked more than 200 years ago, in one of the country’s first historic preservation battles. In 1813, the Pennsylvania state legislature proposed selling the Pennsylvania Statehouse, known today as Independence Hall — where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were drafted and signed, and the Liberty Bell rang. The would-be buyer was a real estate developer who wanted to demolish the building and divide the land into building lots. The state intended to use the proceeds from the sale to build a grander statehouse in the new state capital of Harrisburg.
The original statehouse was located in Philadelphia. It had been designated the seat of the colonial legislature in 1729. When the building was nearly finished in 1735, “legislators mandated that the open ground south of the structure ‘never be converted into or made use of for erecting any building thereupon'” Martinko wrote in her book. Instead, the ground was to “‘remain a publick open green and walk for ever.'”
Even back then, when the statehouse was surrounded by acres and acres of undeveloped land, legislators knew that “open spaces” needed to be preserved. And they were “incensed” that the statehouse would be sold as “common real estate,” Martinko said.
They were “incensed” that the statehouse would be sold as “common real estate.”
The arguments around the Pennsylvania statehouse debate sound familiar today: the state wanted to sell the building for real estate development; the Philadelphia City Council opposed that, saying it would put private buildings in place of green space that provided “vital air, light and recreation…to a growing urban populace.” And it would mean tearing down “an irreplaceable monument to a watershed moment in world history.”
It took five years, but the City of Philadelphia ultimately raised the $70,000 needed to buy the statehouse and adjoining land — the asking price was $150,000 — and has owned it ever since. In 1966, it became a U.S. National Historic Landmark, and, in 1979, was named a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site, “not for its architectural design but for the documents of fundamental importance to American history drafted and debated here that formed the democracy of the United States,” UNESCO wrote. It is open to the public, and, inside, you can take a guided tour from a National Park Service ranger.
Even before the Pennsylvania Statehouse fight, American communities were grappling with preservation issues. And churches were often at the center of those debates.
“In the 1810s and 1820s, there were already very old churches in the U.S.,” Martinko said. “Communities were debating: Is this church a community landmark? Should it remain standing because more people find meaning in it than just the congregants? They might remember walking past it as children, or that it was the most notable thing on the streetscape.”
In other words, people who never set foot inside a church to worship can still see value in preserving it. That was evident at a July 2022 hearing before NYC’s preservation commission, at which a woman testified that West-Park church “signifies home to me…its tower lets me know where to get off the bus.” Another Upper West Side supporter of preserving West-Park told Gothamist, “My windows look right over the church, the church is a part of my life.”
But in many cases, said Martinko, the churches themselves opposed efforts to make their buildings protected landmarks – just as the West-Park congregation is doing today. “Oftentimes the congregation would say, yes, but the mission of our church, whether it’s worshipping or helping impoverished people, could be better served by using our old building for capital, selling it on the marketplace and putting the money toward the mission,” Martinko said.
Today, West-Park Presbyterian Church has a dozen congregants and no pastor. But it was once thriving and mission driven. During the AIDS epidemic in 1987, when little was known about the disease, West-Park was the only one of a dozen churches asked that agreed to lend its kitchen to the fledgling organization known as God’s Love We Deliver, which brought meals to homebound AIDS-sufferers, despite unknown risks at the time.
West-Park church was also “the original home of Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare festival and the first church in New York City to support gay marriage,” testified City Council Member Gale Brewer at a 2009 commission hearing.
The West-Park building is architecturally significant. Built between 1882 and 1889 by leading architects of the time, it was called by the Landmarks Commission “one of the Upper West Side’s most important buildings,” sitting as a “powerful anchor for the intersection of two major thoroughfares.” It is also recognized as “one of the best examples of a Romanesque Revival-style religious structure in New York City,” the commission said when it gave the church landmark status. But the commission’s report at the time also noted that, “Sections of the church’s stone cladding, some of its windows, and many of its decorative elements are presently in a state of decay.”
And that was 12 years ago.
One of the central arguments in the debate over whether to continue preserving West-Park church revolves around the price tag for needed repairs. The church façade is a mess. For more than two decades, its red-sandstone base has been obscured by a sidewalk shed, put up to protect pedestrians from pieces of the façade that might fall. Those seeking the landmarks commission’s approval of West-Park’s hardship application say the building is unstable, its walls tilting outward, its sandstone crumbling, and the cost of necessary renovations — inside and outside – exceeding $50 million.
Those pushing for continued preservation call that estimate greatly inflated. They note that the building is functioning well as a neighborhood performing arts center (it has great acoustics), and they blame the congregation for allowing it to decline. “Demolition by neglect” should not be rewarded, they have argued at the commission’s two meetings on the issue.
When the church was landmarked on January 12, 2010, politicians – primarily Brewer – as well as community groups and neighbors pledged to raise the money for renovations. But the funds were not raised, which makes renewed pledges from Brewer and others this year subject to skepticism. The congregation has dwindled to about a dozen members who claim they are out of resources to sustain the church, let alone repair it.
If the congregation’s hardship application is successful, Alchemy Properties will pay $33 million for the razed church, which will go to the Presbytery of New York, the body overseeing the 90-or-so Presbyterian congregations throughout New York City. The Presbytery has said the money would be used to support their social missions. In addition to the 10,000 square feet the West-Park congregation will get in the new building, it will also receive an endowment from the Presbytery to create a new place of worship in that space, which could also be used as a community center.
The Landmarks Commission is not used to sorting out this sort of situation; its mission is to save historic structures, not issue their death sentences. Hardship applications have been exceedingly rare in the commission’s 57-year history; only 13 have been granted.
The commission was created in 1965 by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Law, signed by then-Mayor Robert F. Wagner. In the decades since, it has designated more than 36,000 historic buildings and sites, according to the city’s website. To become an individual landmark, a building must be at least 30 years old and “have a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the City, state, or nation.”
The New York City commission is the largest municipal preservation agency in the nation. Its 11 commissioners are appointed by the mayor for three-year terms, and it has a staff of 80 historians, architects, preservationists, lawyers, archeologists, and administrative aides.
The city’s commitment to preservation was spurred by the 1963 demolition of the original Pennsylvania (Penn) Station, a Beaux Arts building designed by the famous architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White and completed in 1911. The station covered two full city blocks, from 31st to 33rd Streets between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.
“Inside and out, the building was meant to be uplifting and monumental — like the Parthenon on steroids — its train shed and waiting room a skylit symphony of almost overwhelming civic nobility, announcing the entrance to a modern metropolis,” The Times once wrote.
But the “Parthenon on steroids” was torn down, in a transaction involving air rights, to make way for a new sports complex, Madison Square Garden, and an underground railroad station. Years later, Yale professor Vincent Scully, Jr. famously derided the change to the New York Times: “One entered the city like a god;” when arriving at Penn Station, but “one scuttles in now like a rat.”
“One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.”
The commission researches buildings to find potential landmarks, including surveying buildings suggested by members of the public. It is unclear how the West-Park church was brought up for landmark consideration a dozen years ago, but clearly one of the champions of its landmark status was — and is — Gale Brewer.
Brewer – then, as now, the neighborhood’s representative on the city council – campaigned for making West-Park a landmark, but noted at the time: “There is more to do. This momentous designation sets the stage for the congregation, neighbors, Community Board 7, elected officials, and preservation groups to work in concert for the church’s spiritual and adaptive renewal.”
But in the 12 years since, there has been no financial rescue plan for West-Park, and conditions have continued to deteriorate. Its members argue that, if freed from the financial drain of the building, they will be able to resurrect the congregation and begin serving their social mission again.
But Martinko, the historian, says there may be other ways for the church to find the financial means to achieve its mission. “What if they said, we could sell it for less to another developer who wants to build some affordable housing?” she asked. That might satisfy some critics of the luxury condo proposal, but it would still mean tearing down the church. “We could also look at this through the lens of sustainability,” Martinko added. “How much waste would be generated by the destruction of this building? Where will it go but right to a landfill? How does that relate to climate change?”
After two public sessions this year to allow comments for and against the church’s proposal, the landmarks commission announced it would finance an independent, expert assessment of the church’s damage and estimated costs to repair and restore it. The findings of the assessment are to be presented to the commission and the public sometime in September. Then, or sometime in the future, the commissioners will vote on whether to continue protecting West-Park Presbyterian Church, or let it face the wrecking ball.
Landmarking has gone far beyond the original intention of saving uniquely significant buildings like Independence Hall or Penn Station and has become an all purpose tool for local conservatives to veto any change to a neighborhood no matter how small. 71% of the Upper West Side is now subject to landmarking! Not every building is Penn Station. The city needs to preserve its heritage but it also needs to make room to grow for its future. https://www.rebny.com/content/dam/rebny/Documents/PDF/News/Research/Policy%20Reports/REBNY_SAH_Paper.pdf
71% of UWS is landmarked because the building has the highest concentration of historic prewar apartments and intact rowhouses anywhere in the nation. Not to mention architecturally magnificent banks, churches, and synagogues. Don’t worry, only 10% of Manhattan is landmarked and 3% of the city. There’s plenty of space for developers to build poorly constructed glass monoliths for Saudi billionaires.
Is “the highest concentration of historic prewar apartments and intact rowhouses anywhere in the nation” based on any actual source? In the city alone, Greenwich Village, Brooklyn Heights and Prospect Heights all have more historic homes (https://bdon.org/building-age-nyc/). Nationwide, Georgetown in DC, Society Hill in Philadelphia, Beacon Hill and Back Bay in Boston, the French Quarter in New Orleans, etc, etc all have more historical development than the UWS. The UWS was hardly developed at all until after the Civil War. It’s unfortunate that our high rate of historical landmarking does not come with an equally high rate of historical education.
I have nothing against new buildings, except when they destroy the skyline, light, air, density and everything else, including the historical significance that you seem to think is so irrelevant. The reason the areas you mention have more historic homes is because the historic homes elsewhere have been knocked down. That’s pretty obvious. As others have pointed out, unless we have more affordable housing built, NYC already has enough overpriced, ridiculously badly constructed buildings. Check out the history of the faulty CitiCorp building. I much rather retain some historic character to a location, then have the soulless metropolis predicted by the film Metropolis during the silent film era. That’s for how long people have been disgusted by the removal of older properties. The Bronx was destroyed by the Expressway, and that almost happened to Greenwich Village had Jane Jacobs not gone up against Robert Moses. Look at old footage of the original Penn Station and weep. We do not have a high rate of historical designation at all.
Gale Brewer has had since 2010 to restore this building but she has done NOTHING. For the past twelve years this church has been a rundown eyesore surrounded by scaffolding.
Perhaps if some of these preservationists would come up with an actual plan to obtain the funding to restore this church – whether it is $50M or $5M or $500K – I would be in favor of keeping the church.
But these folks have had a dozen years to come up with a plan yet the building is still a rotting and unsafe mess.
The heart of the matter is that people in the area don’t care about the church. They are simply opposed to construction in their neighborhood. Fair enough, but they should at least be honest about it instead of professing their alleged love for this structure.
The demolition of this church is long overdue. A fair compromise would be for the developer to include space for a community center and church on the ground floor.
You are incorrect. Not only has Gale been very active in attempting to find a solution, but some years ago a compromise solution WAS reached, in which a developer would demolish only a small section of the church. This proposal was also rejected by the “community.” It is clear that the “community” is not interested in a compromise; they will fight to keep the entire building, no matter the trouble or heartache it causes the congregation. This is mean-spirited.
Ian, I remember that partial demolition plan I thought that was a done deal, I was starting to wonder if I had made it up thank you! Wonder how it fell apart, it sounded like a decent plan
Even for the sake of argument let’s assume Gall Brewer has ben “very active” in attempting to find a solution to this church issue she has had a dozen years to find a solution and she has been unsuccessful.
Are you in favor of giving her another dozen years to find a solution? Do you really believe it is in the neighborhood’s best interest to have a decrepit building with scaffolding surrounding it for another twelve years?
Oh, and may I ask why is the Soldiers and Sailors monument allowed to deteriorate? Shameful. Oh wait, Brewer is working on it.
Love it. Save historical structures when possible. We have enough ugly boring luxury condos.
There are zero luxury condo buildings in the West 80’s and 90’s. Most are old dark, small, pre war buildings without air conditioning. Rich people don’t live on the upper west side as a result. New luxycondo construction would lower the prices of older buildings and decrease crime.
“Rich people don’t live on the Upper West Side?” Which rich people would that be? The ones on the unaffordable Central Park West or the ones in the unaffordable new buildings on the far West Side highway area? Or maybe the ones at the unaffordable Columbus Circle, or maybe the …. Maybe you think new luxury condo construction would lower prices, but prices never get lower. They can only get higher. New construction makes old construction next door more valuable, not less valuable, for starters. None of it has any relationship to street crime. People in Ivory Towers don’t come running down from the Penthouse to ward off perpetrators. Your comment is very odd indeed, especially since the new building on Broadway at 62 Street starts with one bedroom apartment that start at around $2-million. Even new construction on the hard-to-access lower east side has studios starting at over$ one-million. Reality check!
“Rich people don’t live in the UWS” You can’t be serious..
There are 5 luxury condo buildings which have been built just on Broadway from 81St. to 96th St. in the last 2 years. Are you living under a rock or spreading fake news on behalf of REBNY?? We are inundated with new construction in this neighborhood almost every bit of it luxury condos. What we aren’t doing is preserving important historic landmarks like West Park.
“We have enough luxury condos!” We have a lot of expensive apartments but I wouldn’t call them luxurious. Look at what $1 million buys you on the UWS – https://streeteasy.com/building/the-avery/7d. An extremely blah junior one bedroom on a budget that would get you a very nice home in most places.
If there we already had enough luxury condos, no self respecting millionaire would ever live in something like this. But in our neighborhood even objectively rich people end up living in small, poorly constructed homes. These are the kind of apartments that should be affordable but get bid up to ridiculous levels instead – because there actually aren’t enough luxury apartments being built.
People are so used to New York being expensive that they never stop and ask why it has to be like this. Our developers aren’t any greedier, but our archaic zoning and overly aggressive landmarking laws have created a massive housing shortage.
We don’t need any more luxury housing on the Upper West Side. Keep the church as a community center.
Who is this “we” you are alluding to?
Leaving aside “Billionaire’s Row” nearly all new construction on UWS sold out or was fully rented rather quickly. So goes your theory about what “we” on UWS need or don’t in terms of housing.
Not everyone wants to end their days in some ancient five or six floor tenement apartment squeezing an adult and two children (plus a dog ) into what can loosely be called a “one bedroom”.
The building is crumbling and uninhabitable. And the owners have no money to renovate it. So, that is not even an option.
Make the sides agree on the estimate to repair. Give Brewer 6 months to raise 25% of the funds. If she does – give here another 12-16 months to raise the rest. If she does – restore the building. If she does not – demolish. Right now the building is not a landmark – it’s a blight. Acknowledge the reality. If she raises some funds but not enough – use it as a seed capital to fix the Soldier’s and Sailor’s monument. Let’s go.
The problem with Gale Brewer is that she has always placed her own interests in maintaining her post, ahead of
doing the right things for her constituents. However, the few people who bother to vote, just keep re-electing her.
We have only ourselves to blame.
I vehemently disagree. I have been her constituent – when she was Council member, then BP, and now Council member again – for several decades. There is simply no elected official who is MORE active – and does more for his/her constituents – than Gale.
One issue has not received nearly enough attention—the ability of the Presbytery to fund repairs. Tho the congregation is tiny the organization involved in supporting the demolition of the building is not. Is there really financial hardship.? Are we asking the right parties about that.? If the Presbytery will gain the benefit of a tear down why has the LPC has been looking only to the church for funds.? I’m puzzled.
This was discussed ad nauseam during the meetings. It was sort of the reason for the entire conversation that is happening now.
The building needs to be transferred to a non-profit org to receive the government funds that Brewer can funnel to it.
Once that happens, Brewer can provide funding for repairs and the non-profit art org that has been there for years can carry on using it.
I still like the idea proposed to have them sell it for less and build a smaller building on the space. But I don’t think that is an option. It would be nice if the Presbyterian church offered up this solution as a way of achieving its mission, but they have been pretty silent.
I hate the idea of having a big building in that space further blocking sunlight in the neighborhood, but I am also a strong believer in free markets and I don’t see a logical end game for keeping the church, so let’s rip off the band aid and move on.
Save historical structures when possible, turn in into a Science/Atheist reading room.
you know, something with purpose.
Can someone explain what (if any) benefits there are to a building’s owners for the structure to be designated historic?
It seems like the ‘historic’ designation was inflicted upon the church’s owners (the congregation), without their having having requested or sought it, which limits the value of the structure to its private owners.
This amounts to an outright appropriation of property by people who have no responsibility or obligation to maintain the property. That Brewer and her ilk are offering a FRACTION of the property’s value is a brazen attempt at outright Communistic theft. They are effectively weaponizing the so-called ‘historic structure’ designation, and leveraging it to STEAL an asset. In so doing, they are impeding and retarding actual, tangible, real improvement in the neighborhood, FOR THEIR OWN GAIN.
If this is what ‘preservation’ is, then I am absolutely opposed to it.
Do you consider taxation to be “theft”?
Unfortunately, your comment thoroughly misrepresents what preservation is. Please go back and read the article, which does a fine job of accurately representing what it is and why it exists. FYI: you may disagree with designating this particular structure as landmark, but there is no reason to be hysterical about it. Nobody is stealing an asset and or doing this for their own again. Thankfully you weren’t around in 1813 to champion demolishment of the Pennsylvania Statehouse and Independence Hall!
Unless the commission is going to give the congregation the money to renovate it, they have no business designating and strangling some else’s property.
I like the Westside bc it doesn’t look like the Eastside. I don’t care for that religion. I do wonder why their co-religionists allowed that church to crumble like slumlords do. Was it just to make a huge killing? If that’s the case, it’s lousy. I guess the 12 remaining parishioners will go to a different church. And the community center that sort of was will turn into another ugly edifice. There goes the neighborhood.
As the article mentions, the church will get a 10,000 square foot space in the new building for a place of worship and a community center.
So if they say no then what? It just stays there forever deteriorating?
“The Landmarks Commission is not used to sorting out this sort of situation; its mission is to save historic structures, not issue their death sentences.”
Sometimes, hard decisions have to be made, and issuing “death sentences” is occasionally warranted. This is such a case. As I have noted before, the very act of landmarking a building is fraught with legal implications, since it is a “taking” under the law, and thus illegal; if the Church decided to go to court, it would win.
As well, as I have also noted, the only – or at very least primary – decision MUST rest with the congregation. It is THEIR building, and must serve THEIR needs. If it does not any more, then they should have the sole and exclusive right to determine its fate. Doing otherwise is an impingement on their First Amendment right to “freely practice” their religion – and they would win in court on this point, too.
It is time to end this fiasco and allow the Church and its congregation to move on and sell the property. I hope the LPC sees and understands this.
You are quoting law as if you are a constitutional scholar–except you are totally mistaken! Landmark preservation law is well- established throughout New York City and the state of New York, as well as across the country, and this is in large part due to a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Penn Central v. New York City, as well as numerous other rulings since then. (Specifically, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Law is not a “taking” of its owners’ property in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.)
Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City, 438 U.S. 104 (1978) was a different matter.
“Brennan pointed out that Penn Central still could develop the rest of the parcel on which Grand Central Terminal stood, since the law only burdened its ability to use the air space above the Terminal. He was not concerned by the fact that the law burdened certain property owners more than others, since this is often true of laws that promote the public good. Brennan stated that the government interference with private property should be evaluated both qualitatively (the type of interference) and quantitatively (the extent of the interference). He found that the restrictions under the law had a substantial relationship to the government’s legitimate interest in preserving historical landmarks for the general welfare and that Penn Central had plenty of alternative ways to develop this property and others.”
West Park has no such “alternatives”.
Furthermore as have stated numerous times Landmarks Preservation commission gave St. Vincent’s Hospital permission to tear down landmarked O’Toole building to build a new hospital. Commission feared if the bankrupt hospital would prevail in legal proceedings
Given current majority of SCOTUS hostility to stare decisis I wouldn’t say it’s a safe bet should another landmarks case comes before them, especially one that involves religion/church.
But now we are dealing with a religious institution, and that will trigger a claim under the First Amendment. There is a long list of case law in which governmental “interference” has been found in far less egregious situations than flat out constructively confiscating the sole asset of a religious body.
Does nothing matter anymore except the financial gain of NYC real estate developers and politicos? Isn’t there enough tearing down of ‘old NYC’ –this lack of respect not subscribed to in beautiful European countries that recognize the worth of history? Do we not have enough new construction to house the uber-wealthy many of whom do not even occupy the apartments they purchase? The money needed to restore this church is nothing compared to what was spent to bail out Wall Street. This is not about objecting to a natural flow of change. This is about restoring balance and saving this church and the neighborhood from yet another sun-and-air blocking slab.
New York City has some of the oldest housing stock in nation. Much of it needs tearing down and replaced with modern more efficient buildings.
Between landmark or historical district status, rent regulation (those tenants cannot be touched), and NIBY comparatively little new housing is built. More is the pity because NYC needs huge amounts of new housing if it is to deal with increased population.
People who are living in rent regulated housing and or bought years ago at very good prices don’t want change. Why should they? They got theirs while getting was good, now want others to either do without or get it somewhere else. Long as they can keep city preserved as it was twenty or whatever years ago, they’re happy.
I think the entire issue is what they want to replace it with. A building that only a few hundred supper rich people will get to enjoy is not cool. Sure if it was a 133 year old apartment building maybe. But replacing a public space like a church with something like that is not going to make very many people happy. And replacing it with a park or community center etc. won’t pay the bills.
except that the proposal calls for the developer to provide the church with 10,000 square feet of space in the new building to be used as a church and a community center, so both the congregation and the community groups should still have access to space once the project is complete.
The real issue is “who should bare the financial burden of landmarking” People would sing a different song if they had to pay the fair market value. If NYC had to pay the FMV of the cost the landmarks commission would be more cautious in designating a building.
LPC should make its decision as soon as possible because as we all know, that will just be the first step in bringing this to resolution. Whoever loses will file an Article 78 proceeding in NY County Supreme Court, and the matter will then start up through the court system, where i believe the church will win (after a few more years). The church makes a powerful argument that by encumbering its sole asset, the land the building sits on, the LPC is infringing on West Park’s religious mission to serve the community to the fullest extent it can. I have not heard anyone offer an argument to counter such a position.
SAVE the Church! America has no regard for our history and for historical buildings… who needs yet another high rise? There has to be a way to preserve the integrity of the neighborhood…it has already been decimated.
When we turn around in a few years after the City has been sold lock stock and barrel to developers some will wonder what happened. Some of us will know.
The church likes to claim poverty is what caused the church to deteriorate but that’s not it. The Congregation was at one time a thriving rich congregation and it decided that maintaining its building wasn’t important. So it let the maintenance go . As the congregation moved away, the church enjoyed its tax free status , it bided its time and allowed time to do its work. It’s called demolition by neglect. ( I know church representatives will bristle at this term but that is what the LPC calls it and , in my opinion, with any other owner the LPC would have taken steps to enforce the rules and they have!)
The first time the Presbytery found a buyer! Wow….money. The deterioration of the building made it a great soft target but some community minded people said no. We aren’t going to let you knock down this important building ….important both socially and architecturally and put up another tall building to house billionaires and or their money. If you question its landmark status look at the designation. report issued by the LPC at the time.
People did step up to help the church lots of people did. People cleaned the church…..volunteers cleaned out the bird guano in the town. professionals donated their services. People would have given more but the church would agree to commit to not knock down the church if the money came in. Or to allow a nonprofit to buy it. Whose is gong to give millions if they know the owner of the structure could destroy it at any time. There was another way. The church might not have gotten as much money but there was another way.
And now the Church and it’s leaders who have left the church to languish and eschewed reasonable offers of help, have found a new developer and there will be a great windfall to the Presbytery and the Congregation ….at least that is what the papers they have filed with the LPC say. All they have to do is allow it to be destroyed.
A wise person once said something like this : we will be known not for the monuments we build but for what we destroy.
As a side bar…those who will profit from this jet off to Europe to enjoy the beauty of the lovely old buildings and churches but when it comes to NYC they can’t wait to know it all down. It’s all about greed.
Preservation is how we protect our joint history and our multicultural culture. A people without a culture and a joint history are a people ripe for a demagogue and we have had a taste of where that can lead. We need to protect our history our culture, our neighborhoods and our communities. It’s about people and their lives.
Love it! Preserving the character and fabric of specific places is important, lest the country (and indeed the world) become utterly homogenized and deracinated. Not every building that is landmarked is Pennsylvania Station, but it’s not necessarily the individual building that is important: it’s the ensemble, the overall flavor of the place that matters most. Our society is so myopic about its culture and history, but that’s a tragedy and it impoverishes us. It’s true that preserving the Presbyterian Church is a great burden on a small congregation. Another solution should be found. In Europe, it would be public support (amply justified in this case by the artistic and historical import of the church from an architectural point of view); that won’t happen, but surely one of our billionaires could shake loose a little change to save this wonderful structure.
Read NY magazine redesign of the church: https://www.curbed.com/2022/07/west-park-presbyterian-church-landmarks-reconstruction-demolition.html
Thanks for the link! I like option #2. Option 3 looks like CGI for a scifi movie. Anything would be an improvement. This suggestion was a little off putting though, ‘Should the congregants eventually disperse and no longer need the space, it could easily be converted into a children’s playroom or indoor dog run.’ I live in an old building (no doorman) and feel like I’m out of the loop. Do newer buildings in the city really offer indoor dog runs? : o
This article is TL;DR so pardon if this has been mentioned:
If the building is 133 years old, why was landmark status only granted 12 years ago? The church could have torn it down and made all that money if they wanted to 20 years ago? They didn’t do that so I’m thinking this isn’t a money grab now.
I’m a preservationist at heart, but not everything old needs to be preserved. And if the neighborhood is blighted by a decrepit building with no money to repair it and no real use for it even if it is repaired, how is that dignified?
I think ugly new buildings are more of a blight. Over the years, the acceleration of the blandness of the Westside sickens me. What is there for the tourists to see? What is there —tangible—to allow us to remember? The loss of flavor is almost like a war zone or a bad facelift. So sad.
I’m not interested in what tourists might see in a primarily residential area. I’m interested in not having a crumbling building sit around indefinitely.
Once the Commission opens the gate, there is no going back. Developers have been chiseling at the Landmarks Laws for years. They are laws because,taste and circumstances are fleeting, but maintaining the historical evidence of a city is critical.
Thank you for the detailed and well researched overview of the issue, Carol. It’s worthy of the new, more journalistic direction of the Rag.
“Historic Preservation: Love It or Hate It” mentions the possibility that the congregation’s mission could be better served by selling its building, but the article overall clearly comes down on the side of “love it.” It would be a better article if it mentioned some of the serious ways that historic preservation is holding back our neighborhoods, as pointed out in recent articles from The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/05/historic-preservation-has-tenuous-relationship-history/629731/ and the Times https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/26/opinion/historic-preservation-solar-panels.html.
“Historic preservation comes at a cost: It obstructs change for the better.“ It blocks change that’s good for the environment (the climate benefits of letting more people live in a walkable neighborhood where they don’t need a car far outweighs the cost of waste in a landfill). It blocks change that would make our cities more affordable (experts universally agree that we need more housing supply, especially in high income neighborhoods like the UWS, even if it isn’t affordable, to prevent gentrification of lower income neighborhoods – https://twitter.com/aaronAcarr/status/1392906698822668293?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw).
We must look at the costs of preserving Westpark ($50 million, higher carbon emissions, an increasingly unaffordable neighborhood) as well as the benefits (maybe this church that has been under scaffolding for 20+ years is the next Notre Dame!).
Looks like West-Park congregation is playing hard ball. They’re seeking to get rid of Center at West Park, and have begun legal proceedings to do so.
Your article should be included in every writing class that teaches how to write clear direct prose. Congrats!